Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Gary Rawnsley's Editorial

"Taiwan is telling the wrong story to the world. By emphasizing culture as the priority in the public diplomacy strategy — Taiwan as the preserver of traditional Chinese culture — it is missing the opportunity to define itself and tell a more exciting and relevant story that would generate international interest.

Taiwan is the first Chinese democracy."
"Certainly" is a word to be used with some care, but to my mind, Taiwan's political-economic status as a Chinese democracy is far more likely to generate popular interest in the West than is its' status as living curator of "traditional" Chinese culture. Certainly... Taiwan's political status was what piqued my interest all those years ago in Edinburgh (I had a couple of Chinese friends with whom I used to argue about it). I can also say with certainty that my own interest in traditional and modern Chinese culture was only marginal at the time (though somewhat greater now).

However, the perspective that Rawnsley criticizes (that of the government under the linguistic expropriation, in typical fashion, of the name "Taiwan") is so narrow as to be of questionable worth. For a start, the tone he takes throughout that editorial piece is one marked by the face-saving assumption that the R.O.C. government's objectives are to use the Taiwan Academies and "soft diplomacy" more generally as indirect means of undermining any future attempt at PRC annexation. Whether he himself holds that assumption or not I don't know, but at any rate, I think it is wrong. My reading is that the long term objective of the KMT/R.O.C. is to achieve de jure "reunification" whilst preserving some measure of de facto "independence". With that assumption in place, I think the target audience for the Taiwan Academies may be as much China as it is the U.S. - if this is true, then Rawnsley is missing the point by framing his criticism in constructive and helpful terms.

In addition to that, there is also Rawnsley's bald claim that...
"...few people across the world either know or care about Taiwan. Many would have great difficulty locating Taiwan on a map."
He later upgrades this claim in hyperbole value to...
"If no one knows where Taiwan is, why would they seek out and engage with the academies?"
This is one of those standard tropes that annoys me. Look, to say that "few" people know where Taiwan is, without any context from which an actual value could be specified for that throw-away adjective "few", is just risible. You might as well say "few" people know any geography, or that "few" people know where the Straits of Malacca are. At best, it can only be taken as a rough criticism of the socialized education systems of the West (though of course most lefties will shrink from that implication like cats from a water hose). Anybody with the slightest professional or amateur interest in international trade will know where Taiwan is, and perhaps just as likely know something about Taiwan's political status.

Then there is the world wide web - which, in my opinion at least, knocks all overt and clumsy government propaganda efforts into a cocked hat.

This insistence that Taiwan is unknown in the wider world is just the same domestic propaganda nonsense that the Kaohsiung City government pulled with their ridiculous World Games stunt back in 2009.

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